Zoning is always a contentious issue, but California legislatures are quietly making it a nonissue — in some cases.

Presently, every local government is required to adopt a general plan for development within their jurisdiction. A general plan takes into account the housing needs of the current population, and the population as it continues to grow in the coming years. Future plans envisioned now.

However, an idyllic local general plan rarely conforms with the nitty gritty local zoning ordinances which dictate where and how new housing may be developed — the local hurdle set high to stymie builders.

Now, development project applications are required to be processed locally in accordance with the local government’s general plan, giving zoning ordinances lower priority.

Beginning January 1, 2024, when a zoning ordinance is inconsistent with the general plan, the local agency has up to 180 days from receiving the development application to either:

  • amend the inconsistent zoning ordinance; or
  • process the development application without regards to the inconsistent zoning ordinance. [Calif. Government Code §65860(c)]

This change enabled by AB 821 allows a development to move forward when the project follows the rules of the local government’s general plan — even when that plan is inconsistent with local zoning ordinances.

Further, any resident or property owner may bring an action or proceeding in the superior court to enforce compliance with these provisions within 90 days of a local agency’s failure to comply. [Gov C §65860(b)]

Related article:

New law survives court challenge to allow denser housing


For growth, go around zoning

California is home to 12% of the U.S. population — but only 10% of the U.S. housing stock, according to the U.S. Census. This disparity translates to hundreds of thousands of missing units needed to meet demand from homeowners and renters.

California is in desperate need of more housing, and legislatures know sidestepping not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) enthusiasts is necessary to get there. California, it turns out, is replete with neighborly exclusionists.

Across the state, improperly restrictive zoning has resulted in:

These factors render significant numbers of would-be homebuyers incapable of buying in a competitive market, forcing them to remain renters or live with family, or worse on the street.

Further, without more housing in the areas where jobs are plentiful, the quality of life for all residents will continue to deteriorate, as levels of homelessness will continue to rise, buy-to-let landlords will pull juicy rental income, and community investment by homeowners will flatline or decline. The goal is to build housing, not offices (until they are needed again).

For real estate agents, this supply-and-demand imbalance caused by strangulation through zoning ordinance enforcement results in an artificially stunted stream of income, all due to local politicians. The standard of living for agents is also impaired by failure of construction permits, not of builders, to provide for housing of our population growth that’s everywhere.

As a counterpoint to the NIMBYs that typically run things at city hall, agents can let their expert voices be heard at local city council meetings, as agents are the gatekeepers for homebuyers. You’ll join a huge majority of friendly residents who support additional development to provide housing for local jobs.

Related article:

Governor Newsom opens up commercial zoning for residential use